The EPA Blog The EPA Blog Wed, 22 Jul 2015 14:14:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Seeding Environmental Innovation Wed, 22 Jul 2015 14:14:44 +0000 By April Richards

EPA's Small Business Innovation Research team at the conference.

EPA’s Small Business Innovation Research team at the conference.

I love my job, but every so often it’s a good idea to get one’s professional batteries re-charged. Recently our EPA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) team had the chance to do just that when we attended the 2015 National SBIR/STTR Conference. We spent three days getting our annual dose of inspiration by meeting environmental entrepreneurs, the managers of the other 10 federal SBIR programs, and many successful SBIR awardees who have gone from an innovative seedling to a growing green business.

The conference kicked off with a celebration of successes—the announcement of the annual Tibbetts Awards. Small Business Administration (SBA) officials, SBIR program managers and awardees gathered in one of the stunning 19th century rooms of the White House’s Eisenhower Executive Office Building. Surrounded by marble walls, 800-pound bronze sconces and elaborately tiled floors, we recognized the companies, individuals and organizations who received one of the 32 “Tibbies” awarded this year. PCI Corporation, a past EPA SBIR company, was among this year’s winners.

While it was gratifying to see one of EPA’s SBIR companies recognized, I was inspired personally by the special recognition of Roland Tibbets, the “Father of SBIR.” The SBIR program was an innovation in 1976 when Tibbetts piloted the program to champion small business’ access to federal funding for research and development. SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet honored Tibbett’s memory saying, “His work revolutionized the innovation landscape in this country and further improved its economic vitality.”

After the awards, conference participants attended workshops and panel discussions on nuts and bolts, future directions, and SBIR success stories. During the conference keynote address, the SBA Administrator Contreras-Sweet highlighted one of those success stories. She briefly told the story of one EPA SBIR awardee, Ecovative Design, that is using mushrooms to create sustainable building materials and said, “That’s what SBIR is all about!”

I wanted to stand up and cheer, “That IS what EPA’s SBIR Program is all about – seeding innovation AND making a difference for the environment.” But I just smiled like a proud parent, remembering how every day EPA helps small businesses translate their innovative ideas into commercial products that address environmental problems.

Later in the day, we got down to the business of talking to small business owners. Over two days we spoke to over a hundred entrepreneurs about their ideas for environmental technologies and how the process for SBIR funding works.

The most asked question – “Is my idea a good fit for EPA’s program?” EPA’s next solicitation opens this summer and includes a broad range of topics. My hope is that our presentations and one-on-one communications will help the next group of small businesses navigate their way to success.

I like to say that EPA’s SBIR is a small program with a big mission. Now that we’re back in the office, re-inspired and re-charged, we’re more ready than ever to get back to the awesome work of seeding innovation to protect the environment.


About the Author: April Richards joined EPA in 2001 and is Program Manager for the Agency’s SBIR Program.  She appreciates the practicality and commercial edge that small businesses bring to environmental protection.

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This Summer Prevent Pests by Reducing Moisture Outside of Your Home Mon, 20 Jul 2015 19:55:36 +0000 By Marcia Anderson

Clogged gutters provide the standing water that mosquitoes need for egg laying and larval growth

Clogged gutters provide the standing water that mosquitoes need for egg laying and larval growth

Like most suburban dwellers, I spent the past few weekends trimming vegetation, mowing the lawn and making sure gutters and other areas around the house were clean of debris and standing water. I soon realized that the mosquito, black fly, and other insect populations were blooming along with the flowers. But where were all of these pests coming from?

Bugs and rodents go wherever there is water. If you have a water leak in or under your house, and the wood stays wet, it will attract pests such as: wood lice, carpenter ants, and termites. Pests that eat wood are particularly interested in moist wood because it is easier for them to chew. They also rely on the moisture in the wood as a source of water. Termites and carpenter ants are known for burrowing through wood and forming nests inside the wood structures. Once holes are made because pests have found wet, weakened spots, rodents may enter the home through those gaps. Have your home’s crawlspaces checked for pests when plumbing problems are detected.

Insects and other small pests need to draw life-sustaining moisture from their surroundings, so they avoid dry places and are attracted to moist areas. If the soil around your house is dry, it’ll be less attractive to insects, spiders, centipedes and other pests.

Buckets provide great habitats for mosquito breeding

Buckets provide great habitats for mosquito breeding

Downspouts and gutters are the first places to look for breeding pests. Termites thrive in the moisture often found around your home’s downspouts. Direct water away from your home by turning the downspouts away from the house and use downspout extensions (splash blocks) to disperse rainwater and prevent soil erosion around the foundation. Also watch for leaks and clogs in your gutters that may eventually lead to water damage. Make sure all other drains, including the air conditioner drain lines, flow away from the home and that the pipes extend at least two feet from the foundation.

I found a few standing water sources on my property.

  • The drainage holes on the bottom of a planter were clogged with leaves and collecting rain water.
  • My grandson’s plastic pail and other play equipment had been forgotten outside and had filled with rainwater and mosquito larvae.
  • One of my sprinkler system’s underground lines was leaking, creating a puddle in the yard.
  • Water was collecting in a cavity in one of our trees.

Everyone should take steps to eliminate places where water collects outdoors, such as: tires, garbage cans, tree holes, buckets, wash tubs, even table umbrella stands, etc. This will not only eliminate mosquito breeding habitats, but also water sources for cockroaches and termites. Empty out any water you find to eliminate this problem.

I also had to remove some mulch that was piled too close to the house and trimmed the plants that were growing too close to the siding.  Mulch traps moisture and should be raked away from windowsills, siding and any other wood. Keep a two-foot pest-free strip around the building by trimming branches, and making sure mulch doesn’t touch the foundation.

Tree cavities provide an unexpected breeding spot for mosquitoes

Tree cavities provide an unexpected breeding spot for mosquitoes

Plants growing against the house will also keep siding damp so trim back bushes and trees. Make sure that the soil is sloped away from the house at least six inches every 10 feet. This will reduce soil dampness near your foundation and keep your basement drier.

Lastly, monitor irrigation systems. Ensure sprinklers are adjusted to spray away from the foundation walls and the house.

Be PestWise! Regular maintenance and sanitation are key components of a smart, sensible and sustainable pest management program. Recognizing the value of pest prevention is an important first step. Preventing the accumulation of moisture outside of your home protects you from pests, saves water, and helps the environment. Visit EPA’s website for more information on controlling pests in and around your home.

About the Author: About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

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Home Energy Audits are Easy and Worth Your Time Mon, 20 Jul 2015 19:50:13 +0000 By Curt Spalding, Regional Administrator

I had a great visit recently with a couple of eager young energy consultants sent by my electric utility, and I’m feeling rather good about the results. I learned that all in all, my 2,500-square-foot colonial home is reasonably energy efficient. And I learned that I can invest just $1,000 to make improvements that will more than pay me back in three years.

Since EPA New England is encouraging residents across the region to take advantage of home energy audits, I asked my utility, National Grid, to audit my house. I wanted to find out first-hand what happens in these audits, which, by the way, are often offered for free.

Even though I am the regional administrator at EPA’s New England office, my experience was pretty much what any homeowner could expect – if you ignore the two suited, but very polite executives that trailed me and the consulting engineers eagerly checking on everything from my boiler, insulation and wiring to my refrigerators, stoves and windows.

The entire visit was actually quite fun, but then, I love this kind of stuff. And in just two to three hours I found out that the areas where I thought I was doing well with energy efficiency were not always that great. I learned that my 93-year-old four-bedroom colonial could use a bit more insulation, and that it hosts an attic fan that turns on when it shouldn’t. I was also surprised to hear that the high-priced, energy-efficient air conditioner I so proudly purchased was installed wrong. The installers hadn’t connected the duct work correctly, so I’ve been cooling a 100-degree attic, in addition to our living space.

If I correct these issues, about 60 percent of the $2,500 cost of improvements will be paid for by tax credits and government subsidies, leaving me with just a $1,000 bill. Oh and, they also gave us 10 free LED light bulbs to replace less efficient ones.

Subsidies and programs already in place in New England put us ahead of the curve of national policy. The US Clean Power Plan, which EPA expects to finalize this summer, will require all states to draft a plan to help cut carbon pollution from the power sector by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. EPA suggests states look at using less fossil fuel, using fossil fuel more efficiently, cutting back on demand and increasing the use of low emission, no–emission or renewable resources. Every state can tailor its own best plan based on their needs.

Each state has its own incentives, and many provide free audits. EPA also offers the ENERGY STAR Home Advisor, an online tool to help consumers save money and improve their homes’ energy efficiency through recommended home-improvement projects. Simple actions, like upgrading a bathroom showerhead, can save thousands of gallons of water a year, which translate to lower water and energy bills.

I asked for a utility audit because I wanted to take part in a program EPA encourages. I wanted to see what is was like to have a home energy audit. It was so satisfying I felt compelled to wander over to neighbors, utility folks trailing behind me, and share with them the lessons I had learned from my audit. I know the improvements I make may only be a tiny difference in the nation’s emissions, but if each of us makes a few recommended changes, it quickly adds up to a big deal.

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Bridging the Gap: EPA’s Report on the Environment Provides a Tool for Communicating Health and Environmental Trends Mon, 20 Jul 2015 17:00:49 +0000 By Kayla Iuliano

One of the big lessons I learned as a graduate student at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health was the key role that effective communication plays in bridging the gap between science and reducing diseases and environmental health risks. Not only was that an important concept to embrace, but I found it refreshing to supplement my studies in epidemiology, toxicology, clinical investigation techniques, and biostatistics with a series of science and health communication courses.

As a participant in the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health Fellowship Program over the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to put what I’ve learned into practice with EPA’s Report on the Environment (ROE).

The ROE is a tool to effectively communicate information regarding the environment and human health conditions in the United States. It contains a compilation of objective, scientific indicators compiled from a variety of sources, including federal agencies, universities, and non-governmental organizations.

The science behind the indicators is robust. Each is reviewed by scientific experts to ensure that it is a valid, unbiased measurement.  EPA’s Science Advisory Board conducted an independent peer review of the report in July 2014.

Indicators are organized into five different themes—Air, Water, Land, Human Exposure and Health, and Ecological Condition—addressing questions relevant to EPA’s mission of protecting human health and the environment.  The questions are largely concerned with changes over time, or trends, in the environment and in human health displayed by data within each indicator.  All indicators contain background information and an explanation of the data, along with data limitations, sources, technical documentation, and references.  By consistently updating the ROE as new data become available, EPA can identify how the environment changes over time.  Such changes are displayed in interactive graphs, tables, and maps that allow users to explore the status of environmental and public health conditions in depth.

Many of the ROE indicators display these graphics in one or more exhibits, which provide more information about the indicator by year, location, or another characteristic.

For example, the ROE indicator for Acid Deposition contains multiple exhibits, one of which illustrates the differences in the amounts of wet sulfate deposition over two different time periods. Wet sulfate deposition occurs when burning fossil fuels release sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, where it reacts to form acidic compounds. When these compounds return to Earth via precipitation (commonly referred to as “acid rain”), it can have a deleterious effect on ecosystem health. By toggling back and forth between the two different time frames within the exhibit, users can readily see the changes in wet sulfate deposition across the U.S. between 1989 and 2013—and see the statistically significant decrease in the amounts deposited within that time.

ROE graphic 1

But what about other environmental and health conditions? Acid Deposition is only one of 85 indicators, all of which are sorted into the five-theme structure, allowing users to find any indicator and associated scientific content in the report, using the color-coded banner which appears at the top of every page:

ROE graphic 2

I’ve found the report a great source of objective information due to its reliable data and clear, peer-reviewed methods to analyze and display information.  By better understanding the condition and trends of the environment and human health in the United States, EPA can more effectively prioritize areas that need improvement, and encourage efforts that contribute to indicators that show improving trends. If you want to learn more about the status and trends in the environment and human health, EPA’s Report on the Environment is a great source!

EPA’s Report on the Environment is available at:

 About the Author: Kayla Iuliano is a recent graduate of Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and is currently an Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH) Fellowship Program Participant with EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment (NCEA).




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Transforming Reflections into Action: Civil Society and Human Rights Fri, 17 Jul 2015 21:35:46 +0000 The Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council (source: US Mission Geneva)

The Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council (source: US Mission Geneva)

By Danny Gogal

For the second time in nearly five years, the United States reported to the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council about its work to provide for human rights in the U.S.  In May, EPA was a part of the U.S. Delegation that traveled to Geneva, Switzerland to present information about the ways the U.S. has been implementing the more than 170 recommendations received from the council during the U.S.’s last Universal Periodic Review (UPR) session, held in 2010.

The presentation was preceded by the U.S government’s UPR report that was submitted to the council in February 2015.  For the first time, the report included a section about the environment, which highlights U.S work on addressing the causes and impacts of climate change.

U.S. Delegation for 2015 UPR (courtesy US Geneva Mission website).

U.S. Delegation for 2015 Universal Periodic Review in Geneva, Switzerland (courtesy US Geneva Mission website).

During the May session, the U.S. delegation also received more than 340 additional recommendations from approximately 120 countries, including recommendations focusing on the need for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, improved farmworker safety, improved water and sanitation services, and protection of indigenous lands and sacred sites.

Preparing for review and receiving recommendations also creates a unique opportunity for national governments to engage directly in dialogue with civil society on their own human rights record.  As part of that process, the U.S. also held a consultation on May 11 for American non-governmental organizations, during which environmental issues played a more prominent role.  Many groups raised concerns about climate change and hazardous waste cleanups.  The EPA representatives talked about how the Agency’s Clean Power Plan proposed rule and various EPA cleanup programs stand to address some concerns of communities with environmental justice issues.

"We believe that every nation benefits from having a mirror held before it.  Every nation has challenges, and can reach greater heights by participating seriously in the UPR.  This process provides us the vital opportunity to self-assess, to listen to others, and to more effectively address the concerns of individuals in our country." -- Opening Statement by Ambassador Keith Harper, U.S. Representative to the UN Human Rights Council

“We believe that every nation benefits from having a mirror held before it. Every nation has challenges, and can reach greater heights by participating seriously in the UPR. This process provides us the vital opportunity to self-assess, to listen to others, and to more effectively address the concerns of individuals in our country.” — Opening Statement by Ambassador Keith Harper, U.S. Representative to the UN Human Rights Council

The U.S. government is again seeking to engage civil society and is hosting a UPR town hall meeting on Monday, July 20, to seek input about which of the new recommendations the U.S. should support in the current UPR cycle. The consultation also will provide an opportunity to discuss the process for considering the recommendations.  The town hall consultation is scheduled from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time, at the George Marshall Center, Main State Department Building, in Washington, D.C.  Please RSVP to:

Established with the creation of the UN Human Rights Council in 2006, the UPR is a peer review mechanism in which each UN member state is engaged in a dialogue about its human rights record.  The process provides an opportunity for all UN member states to discuss their own human rights records in an open, international forum. It also allows for the sharing of best practices and recommendations.

The EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice has the lead for facilitating the Agency’s implementation of the human rights treaty recommendations pertaining to the protection of the environment and public health.  I look forward to working with those individuals and organizations interested in the implementation of the U.S. government’s accepted UPR recommendations.

About the author:  Daniel Gogal has a public policy, environmental policy, and public administration background  He is currently serving as EPA’s lead for international human rights agreement, and has been working on tribal and indigenous peoples environmental policy and environmental justice issues for the past 28 years.  He is the Tribal and Indigenous Peoples Program Manager for the Office of Environmental Justice, and has worked in various capacities for the Agency’s environmental justice program over the past twenty-three years.

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Smart Shots: How to Take Great Nature Photos With Your Cell Phone Fri, 17 Jul 2015 21:33:20 +0000 By Chrislyn Johnson

Cell phone camera

Here in the Heartland, we have an abundance of beautiful natural scenes from Missouri’s Ozarks to the plains of western Kansas. By fulfilling our mission to protect the environment, all Americans have the opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors in its unspoiled glory.

You can create spectacular images of our pristine lands and waters with a familiar device nearly all of us carry every day. Cell phones are handy multipurpose tools, so why not take full advantage of their capabilities?

While earning my degree in photography, I learned how to capture on film the images in my mind’s eye, but sometimes my cell phone still throws me for a loop. Making a snapshot into an exceptional photo is a little more challenging with the limited controls of a cell phone, but it can be done. The key is to concentrate on the main elements of a good photograph: exposure and lighting, composition and subject, and focus and angle.

Exposure and Lighting

Exposure seems simple, because the camera usually does a pretty good job of metering (measuring) the light. However, the quality of the light can drastically change the mood of an image. With practice, you can learn to differentiate average from better lighting, thereby improving the look and mood of your photographs.

  • Get accustomed to overcast days. The muted light won’t cast strong shadows and can make colors more intense. Alternatively, go out early or late in the day to capture the golden light professional photographers love.
  • Use the color of the light to your advantage.
  • Learn how far your flash will reach and use it all the time for close subjects. It will help soften bright lights and add dimension to soft light.
  • If your subject is dark, try to direct your camera’s focus to another, darker object the same distance away. The meter will automatically adjust the lighting.

Composition and Subject

The subject of a photograph is not always a person, but sometimes a bird, an old gnarled tree, or a beautiful ice sculpture.

Composition is the arrangement of visual elements in your work. This arrangement can be accomplished through selective focus on the subject, a change in the angle you are shooting from, or strategic placement or contrast within the photo. However, the easiest shortcut is to use the Rule of Thirds.

This rule involves imagining two lines running vertically and two horizontally to divide the scene into three sections each way. The ideal subject placement for beginners is along or at the intersection of these lines.

  • Practice using the Rule of Thirds.
  • Find uncommon patterns and angles to create interest.
  • Get in close and at the subject’s level, and get a good view of their eyes (especially if you can see a reflection in them).
  • Be sure the subject is sharply in focus.

Focus and Angle

Where you focus within the scene and where you aim your camera can change a lot within a photograph. Focus can involve placing certain parts of the scene in sharp contrast as others fade into the distance, or finding that a shot is in focus from the foreground to the horizon. The camera’s angle and the placement of a photo’s focus are important in directing the viewer’s eye to the desired location. This can be performed through the lens, or by using an app to provide the illusion of a shallow depth of field (not much is in focus). The goal when making a remarkable image is to artfully accentuate the parts you choose.

Ferns in various light

This series demonstrates how altering the camera angle and focus can change a photograph. Left: From above, the fern is uninteresting. Center: The camera is focused on the fronds and at a lower angle, while the background fades away. Right: The eye is drawn through the image toward the waterfalls in the background. The lighting has also changed and is more golden in this last image, which changes the mood as well.

  • Consider the subject and overall composition, and the “feel” you want to portray. Where do you want the viewer to look? Take a different angle and focus there.
  • Different settings can provide different moods. A bright, sunny day calls for sharper focus, whereas an overcast day with muted colors begs a softer touch.
  • Use photo editing apps to further edit your images.

It’s not enough to simply possess the knowledge of how to take excellent photographs or to have the best equipment. The ideal strategy is to practice the art, take feedback and learn, and enjoy it. I still prefer my digital single-lens reflex camera (DSLR) camera for the best photos. However, more and more I find that my cell phone does the trick for most of what I want to accomplish: capture precious memories!

About the Author: Chrislyn Johnson is a Life Scientist with EPA Region 7’s Water, Wetlands, and Pesticides Division. She holds degrees in biology and photography from the University of Central Missouri. Chrislyn loves all things nature.

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This Week in EPA Science Fri, 17 Jul 2015 20:04:55 +0000 By Kacey Fitzpatrick

research_recap_250Science was celebrated around the world this week as NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft made the first ever visit to Pluto, sending high resolution pictures of its surface billions of miles back to earth.  And science was happening here on the ground too!

Check out the EPA science we’re highlighting this week!

Making it Easier to Be Green
EPA recognized the winners of the 20th Annual Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Awards for innovative green chemistry technologies that turn climate risk and other environmental problems into business opportunities. Winning technologies are responsible for annually reducing the use or generation of more than 826 million pounds of hazardous chemicals, saving 21 billion gallons of water, and eliminating 7.8 billion pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent releases to air.

Read more about the awards in the EPA Connect blog American Innovators are Cracking the Code to Solve Environmental Problems.

Food-Energy-Water Nexus
EPA’s Director for Sustainable Development Alan Hecht will join other distinguished experts on a public webinar to discuss “Mega Trends and Food-Energy-Water Nexus.” The webinar will explore emerging trends and the challenges and opportunities in meeting food, water and energy goals in developed and developing nations on a changing planet.

Read more about the webinar in the blog NEXUS-FLEXUS: Exploring the Intersection of Big Challenges and Innovative Solutions.

If you have any comments or questions about what I share or about the week’s events, please submit them below in the comments section!

About the Author: Kacey Fitzpatrick is a student contractor and writer working with the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

EPA Research Photo of the Week

EPA’s Russell Long installs a small air quality sensor on the NOAA Boulder Atmospheric Observatory tower in Erie, Colorado.

While not quite as distant as New Horizons, EPA’s Russell Long did have to go pretty high up in July, 2014 to install a small air quality sensor on the NOAA Boulder Atmospheric Observatory tower in Erie, Colorado. The work was part of a collaborative air quality study called DISCOVER-AQ, conducted with NASA and other research partners. Image by EPA photographer Eric Vance.

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Sharing a Passion for Nature with a New Generation Fri, 17 Jul 2015 18:29:32 +0000 by Jorine Campopiano

It’s all or nothing. I’m all-in. This is the way I live my life. I am passionate about what I do and work hard on the things I care about. I feel lucky to work as an Environmental Education Coordinator for EPA’s Region 9 in California, where every day I get to work with kids and educators who have that same passion.

When I was a little girl, my father – a nature and hiking enthusiast — would take me on long trips to our local mountains. It was grueling keeping up with him — we would hike for hours. We backpacked and camped in the snow. We always stayed out too long and would end up pulling out our flashlights just to get back to the car. It wasn’t always fun – I would get tired, grumpy, and yes even cry, but I had little choice but to keep moving, I didn’t give up. I grew to appreciate nature, and now as a mother of three young boys, I try to give them similar hands-on experiences so they can understand the bigger issues our earth faces. At EPA, we support the philosophy of hands-on, interactive environmental education that connects science and environmental issues to students’ everyday lives.

This week, EPA and the White House Council on Environmental Quality are recognizing winners of the Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators and the President’s Environmental Youth Award. These programs recognize teachers and K-12 youth who harness their passion and put it towards a project that promotes awareness of our nation’s natural resources and encourages positive community involvement. Our student winners in Region 9 – a class from the Mount Madonna School in Watsonville, California – were inspired by their desire to protect several Pacific sea turtle species. What impressed me most about this project was the complexity and diversity of what they did. This wasn’t some standard school project. The class jumped in, making a movie about the sea turtles, promoting plastic bag bans at City Council meetings, and acting as global ambassadors, by raising thousands of dollars to educate Indonesian fishing village children about the issue.

 photo of a group of kids at the Library of Congress

PEYA winners from Watsonville, California visit the Library of Congress while in D.C. to receive their award.

I am excited to meet the winners this week and am honored to participate in the Presidential Awards Ceremony as a representative from EPA Region 9.  I brought my eldest son, and I hope that he is inspired by hearing about what students across the country have done to improve their environment. Maybe he’ll also understand more about the work his mother does to protect the earth, as I learned from my father.

It’s been said that just a few committed citizens have the power to change the world.  I believe this and believe in the potential shown by these winners. I’m all-in.

Jorine has worked at EPA since 2003, focusing on issues related to wetlands, water and children’s health before her interests expanded to environmental education. She holds a Master of Science in Environmental Science & Management.

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Heat Waves and Climate Change: Learning from History and Looking Ahead Thu, 16 Jul 2015 19:00:35 +0000 By Allison Crimmins

Twenty years ago this week, Chicago suffered from a historic heat wave.  Families tried to stay cool in backyard wading pools and the news begged people to check on their older neighbors, who refused to turn on their air conditioning because it would cost too much. An estimated 700 people died from the heat during that two-week period, many of them elderly (learn more about heat-related mortality). Behind this grim statistic were real people and communities. An oral history of the heat wave published last week by Chicago Magazine has eloquently captured some of these stories of suffering.

heat-deaths-example-download-2014We know climate change will bring more frequent and intense heat waves to the U.S.  Twenty years later, are we twenty years wiser? In terms of preparing for another heat wave or “adaptation planning,” I’d say yes. Chicago’s Climate Action Plan is working to make the city cooler through urban planning (such as preserving green landscapes) and becoming better prepared to respond to future heat waves. But what about addressing the greenhouse gas emissions causing those more frequent and intense heat waves in the first place?

EPA’s recently released report Climate Change in the United States: Benefits of Global Action looks at projected heat-related deaths in 49 U.S. cities (representing about 1/3 of the population) under two scenarios: one where the world takes action to cut global emissions and one where it doesn’t. The risks of inaction are sobering. Without action to reduce global greenhouse gases, the average number of extremely hot days is projected to more than triple from 2050 to 2100.extreme-temp-fig-1-downloadBut there is good news. Taking action on global climate change is estimated to result in significant public health benefits by substantially reducing the risk of extreme temperature-related deaths across the U.S. Extreme temperature mortality can be reduced by 64% in 2050 and by 93% in 2100, compared to the scenario where the world does not take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  That means approximately 12,000 fewer people could die each year from extreme temperature in the 49 modeled cities in 2100. Inclusion of the entire U.S. population would increase these numbers. Activities to adapt to more frequent heat events can help reduce heat mortality, but reducing emissions is still important to saving lives. Including the assumption that cities take significant steps to prepare for extreme heat into the analysis, emissions reductions could still prevent 5,500 deaths per year by the end of the century.

Scientists have been calling on the world to reduce carbon pollution for more than twenty years. The United States has the opportunity and the ability to lead the world in global actions to cut carbon pollution that, by the end of this century, could avoid 12,000 heat-related deaths each year– not to mention save the lives of 57,000 people every year who could die prematurely from the adverse air quality impacts associated with climate change. I can think of no more important reason than that to take action on climate change now.extreme-temp-fig-3-downloadAbout the author: Allison Crimmins is an environmental scientist with EPA’s Climate Change Division, where she focuses on the impacts and risks associated with climate change, especially on human health. Prior to joining EPA, she earned one Masters degree in oceanography by exploring past climates in ocean sediments and a second Masters’ degree in public policy from the Harvard Kennedy School. She lives, works, and judges the occasional science fair in Washington, D.C. but still cheers for the Chicago Bears.

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NEXUS-FLEXUS: Exploring the Intersection of Big Challenges and Innovative Solutions Thu, 16 Jul 2015 18:56:52 +0000 By Alan Hecht

Illustration of interlocking rings of food, water, and energy.The world today faces a host of daunting and inter-related challenges which collectively impact us in an equally diverse set of ways: thwarting economic growth, threatening public health and social wellbeing, and undermining existing environmental protection efforts.

For example, as a result of climate change we face more frequent extreme weather events, extended droughts, and increased health risks due to deteriorating urban air quality. Other dynamic problems include burgeoning urban communities, aging water infrastructure, land loss and ecosystem decline due to sprawl, and projected increased demands for energy, water, and food. It is estimated that by 2030, population growth and consumption together will spark the need for 40% more fresh water, 50% more energy, and 35% more food worldwide.

I recently blogged about such “mega trends” and how colleagues and partners from within EPA and beyond are embracing sustainable development to meet these urgent challenges. Administrator Gina McCarthy in her short dialog of issues for 2015 noted that “envisioning and responding to future problems is a critical need” that Agency science and public dialog could fulfill.

That is why I’m thrilled to be representing EPA at a public webinar organized by the Security and Sustainability Forum on Mega Trends and Food-Energy-Water Nexus on July 30, from 1:25 pm to 2:45 pm (EDT). Joining me will be Dr. Steven Cohen, Executive Director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, and Robert Engelman, Senior Fellow and former President of the Worldwatch Institute.

The webinar will explore emerging trends and the challenges and opportunities in meeting food, water and energy goals in developed and developing nations on a changing planet. Discussions will focus on the innovations in science and technology needed to improve the practices of farmers, engineers, resource managers, and policy-makers to meet human needs in a far more sustainable manner.

Together, we will explore several important and interrelated concepts:

  • Food-water-energy-land nexus which emphasizes the need for a systems approach to problem solving.
  • Resilience which emphasizes the capacity for complex, adaptive systems (e.g., cities, companies) to survive, adapt, and flourish in the face of turbulent change from extreme weather events and other potential disruptions as a key to stemming the impact of emerging mega trends. Resilience is now a prerequisite for achieving sustainable outcomes.
  • Achieving Sustainability which describes outcomes that respond to mega trends, adopting a nexus and systems approach, and building a resilient response. We must go beyond the traditional risk paradigm that has driven much of our environmental protection actions over the past decades and instead adopt a systems approach that accounts for the combined economic, social, and environmental impacts. We must make decisions that recognize the linkages (nexus) of air-water-land use and social wellbeing.

Please join me and my fellow panelists as we discuss these important concepts and how innovation and public dialog can offer solutions to today’s daunting mega trends.

Sign up for the webinar on the Security and Sustainability Forum website:

About the Author: Alan Hecht is the Director for Sustainable Development in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

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